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The Port of Entropy

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East Coast Hip-Hop vs. West Coast Hip-Hop: The Origins and Rise of the Regional Subgenres

Written by on August 3, 2020

Hip-Hop’s Origins

Hip-Hop originated in New York City in the 1970s, where DJ’s would scratch records to create a looped rhythm, and MCs would then rap over the beat. It started out as “party rap” that originated from the block parties thrown on the streets of NYC. Despite the East Coast being the birthplace of hip-hop, regional subgenres such as West Coast rap arose during the 80’s, developing its own unique style, further evolving the genre to where it’s at today.


East Coast Hip-Hop

When hip-hop was developed, all rap was “East Coast rap,” as most of the key artists were from NYC. People such as Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang, and so on, were crucial to the development of hip-hop. A key element of East Coast rap was the lyricism, as artists focused on creating complex lyrics for attentive listening, rather than creating beats to dance to.

The style of East Coast hip-hop wasn’t considered “uniform,” making it difficult to categorize its common elements/ However, in the mid 1980s, artists began to develop a more aggressive style via sampling. Musicians such as LL Cool J helped contribute to the advancement and defining of hip-hop as a genre.

The “Golden Age” of Hip-Hop

From the mid 80s to the 1990s, a lot of mainstream hip-hop was created, mainly by artists from the New York metropolitan area. The Notorious B.I.G. was the main hip-hop figure for East Coast rap in the 90s. His success brought attention to the East Coast during a time where the West Coast was gaining popularity for the rise of gangster rap. Notorious B.I.G.’s album Ready to Die was claimed by many to have reshaped East Coast rap for the gangster age.


Origins of West Coast Hip-Hop

Up until the mid-late 1980s, West Coast rap imitated East Coast party rap. However, the introduction of gangster rap allowed West Coast rap to climb the mainstream music charts. Alonzo Williams, a disk jockey from Compton, is known as the “Godfather of West Coast rap.” Williams started a group called the World Class Wreckin Cru’ which included members such as Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, who later went on to become members of N.W.A.

Hip-Hop beats emerging from Southern California were influenced by electronic music. Artists and groups such as Bootsy Collins, Parliament-Funkadelic and George Clinton were major influences in West Coast hip-hop.

Late 80s and 1990s

Los Angeles and the Bay Area were where many proto-gangster artists like Ice-T, Cypress Hill and MC Hammer emerged. The release of N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton in 1989 was a landmark for bringing gangster rap to the mainstream charts.

Death Row Records was a west coast label that made gangster rap mainstream in the early 90s. It was founded by Marion “Suge” Knight and Andre “Dr. Dre” Young in 1992, artists such as Snoop Dogg, Coolio, and Tupac Shakur. However, after Tupac’s untimely death, the attention gradually drifted back over to East Coast hip-hop, as well as the up-and-coming subgenre of southern rap.

— Olivia (Heritage Director)